I have been following the lead up to the Catalan referendum on October 1st with great trepidation. For years, the government of Mariano Rajoy has refused to deal with the Catalan sovereignty movement politically and has chosen to follow a legal approach. Instead of talking to Catalan leaders and negotiating with them, the government has gone to the courts to stop any public consultation and has brought legal suits against Catalan government officials. It was obvious that the state was determined to prevent the referendum from taking place. The Catalan government led by Carles Puigdemont instead of backing down, pushed ahead with its plans to see how far the Spanish government would go. I was afraid there would be confrontations but I don’t think any of us were quite prepared to what ensued on Sunday, October 1st.
In the days leading to the vote, the Spanish government sent hundreds of Guardia Civil and Policia Nacional troops to Catalonia. They apprehended ballot boxes, ballots, and attempted to keep voting stations closed. Catalan citizens occupied schools on Friday to ensure they would be able to open them on Sunday for the vote. On the day of the vote, police forces were sent to voting stations to close them down and forcefully remove people trying to vote. The images that have shocked the world can be summed by this brief BBC footage:
At various cities, Catalan firefighters came out to stand as human shields between the police and the people:
Twitter exploded with reactions to this:
— Pierre-André Déry (@pierreandredery) October 2, 2017
Catalan firefighters defending voters from the Spanish police. Absolutely astonishing. pic.twitter.com/Gyb1qjN38J
— Owen Jones🌹 (@OwenJones84) October 1, 2017
The mayor of Barcelona was quick to make a powerful statement On October 1st calling for an immediate stop to police actions:
— Ajuntament de BCN (@bcn_ajuntament) October 1, 2017
The rest of the world watched stunned – what happened in Catalonia would have been shocked anywhere in the world but in a country that has recently come out of a dictatorship characterized by brutal suppression of the non-Castilian nations that form the Spanish state, it was particularly bad. Whether one supports Catalan sovereignty or independence, whether one sees the referendum in Catalonia as illegal, it is difficult to justify the way the Spanish state decided to handle the affair. For those of us who lived through Quebec separatism and referenda, this is even more puzzling. I have heard from friends in Quebec, who were opposed to Quebec separatism and voted “no” in the 1995 referendum, who said that if the Canadian government had sent troops to Quebec to prevent people from voting, they would definitely had voted “yes”.
Since then, the crisis has deepened. The King of Spain has issued a televised statement criticizing Catalan institutions and saying nothing about police brutality that has incensed Catalans even more. Many Catalans cities simply stopped on October 3rd and people came out to the streets in the tens of thousands to show their indignation. Lots of images here. Archives and libraries have put out calls for images, videos, and any other kind of evidence of everything that has been going on during and since October 1st. Today the city of Girona has issued two directives to its offices to cut social relations with both the Crown and the federal government. I am working on a translation of both letters and will post them here some time tomorrow.
Catalonia is my home in Spain. I have lived in Barcelona for 13 months in 2006/2007 and since then have gone back nearly every year as I do more research and visit dear friends. Since at least 2012, Dana and I have made our home in Girona as we work on our project on Jewish women and conversas in fourteenth and fifteenth-century Girona. I am very troubled by all that is going on there. I will be in Girona this coming December and it is hard to predict what will be the situation then. I am not sure what the point of this blog post is. I am not a journalist and it is not my intention to report on this event. Nevertheless, as a historian of Catalonia and someone with deep connections there, I did want to register my deep disappointment at the actions of the Rajoy government. On October 1st I tweeted that I wish I could say I was sad but my main feeling was anger. I can only imagine how those on the ground, the children of those who remember the Franco years, feel right now.